While many of us now know that women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, few of us are aware that a male guardian is required in the country to handle all basic legal transactions on behalf of any and all Saudi women. In other words, a woman’s father, husband or brother, and sometimes, even a woman’s own son are permitted to make financial and legal decisions for her but a Saudi woman is not.
“We have seen Saudi Arabia’s baby steps on women’s rights reform obstructed or nullified as a result of the male guardianship system,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director.
Some of the requirements for male consent are legal ones, for example, going to college, but many are traditional, for example, when doctors require a man to give permission for a woman to receive medical services or when businesses ask for a man’s consent for a woman to work.
King Salman recently ordered a review of his kingdom’s rules on male guardianship, and Human Rights Watch is urging him to abolish an archaic system that leaves women entirely dependent upon men.